Richard Attenborough's blessing for culture city bid
by Dan Martin
The city's best-loved thespian, Richard Attenborough, is backing Leicester's drive to be crowned 2017 UK City of Culture.
Lord Attenborough has been unveiled by the team behind the city's bid for the title as its most high-profile supporter.
The respected actor and director grew up in Leicester with his brother, David, the renowned naturalist, and made his stage debut as a boy at the city's Little Theatre.
He has been a life-long supporter of the city's arts scene ever since.
The 89-year-old is in a frail state following a stroke in 2008, but is well enough to lend his support to Leicester's campaign to land the title.
The city is hoping to be chosen to succeed Londonderry in Northern Ireland in the competition, which is being run by the Government.
Today, Leicester and its 11 rivals submitted details of their bid in the hope of being shortlisted in June, before the winner is selected in November.
Lord Attenborough said: "I am delighted to offer my unconditional endorsement and support to Leicester's bid.
"In recent years, as the city has evolved into a huge multi-cultural centre, I have been thrilled to witness Leicester embrace and celebrate this in such an enlightened, inspired and visionary manner."
The celebrity, who has opened a Centre for Disability and the Arts here and loaned his collection of rare Picasso ceramics to be displayed in the city, said: "My experience and knowledge of Leicester's rich vein of cultural and, in particular, theatrical activity goes back over 80 years, from my first stumbling steps on the stage of the Little Theatre, through to the Phoenix, the Haymarket and now Curve."
City mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, who is chairman of the consortium behind the bid, said Lord Attenborough's support had given it considerable weight.
"We have been touched by Lord Attenborough's heartfelt support," said Sir Peter.
"He is indeed a product of this city and very proud of his association with it.
"I am confident we have a very strong bid to put in."
The consortium revealed details of some of the events and activities it would stage in 2017 if the bid is successful. They include a "Festival of Light" based on the city's existing Diwali and bonfire night celebrations, as well as a large scale re-enactment of the Richard III story to mark the discovery of the king's bones.
Geoff Rowe, Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival founder and a member of Leicester's bidding board, said a key feature of the programme would be a portable light installation which would project images onto buildings around the city, such as the National Space Centre.
Curve chief executive Fiona Allan, also on the bidding board, said the Richard III re-enactment would involve both professional actors and thousands of members of the public, and would take place over several days at a number of venues.
The bidding team has been told by the Government that it should expect to spend £10 million on a programme of events if it is successful in being named 2017 UK City of Culture.
Sir Peter said the council was prepared to underwrite the cost but said that a large amount of the funding would come from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council.
He said any public funds put in would be paid back "10 or 100-fold" from the tourism boost.